Did God Foresee this: Questioning Theodicy

To my fellow Christians

Like you, I have faith in the message of the bible, all of it, extraordinary bits included. It answers the big questions of life, explains the condition we find ourselves in and provides an astonishing solution; while also promising incredible purpose, joy, peace, comfort and hope for those who submit to its message.

That said, I acknowledge that some things remain difficult to understand, and at times these obscurities can rise up to confront our faith.

To Quote Dr Barry Whitney ~ We live in a world of unprecedented atheism, humanism and despair. Ours is a world where belief in God certainly is not easy to maintain ~

A Measured Response

A fact of the faith-filled life throughout history has always been the likelihood of opposition. For all who would adopt faith in the face of contemporary wisdom and knowledge, they will eventually meet objection, ridicule or even persecution; and let’s face it, the Bible is full of things that stand well outside modern convention, data and experience; and therefore fair game in the eyes of the sceptic.

In these situations the Christian has response options, and, just as with scripture, context should determine our reaction. Sometimes it is best to remain silent, especially if we lack the patience or capacity to properly understand the argument or formulate a structured well-presented response.

At other times we may need to acknowledge our inability to answer and seek wiser council; after all most questions have already been well researched and documented by minds possibly better prepared than our own.

Of course, there are also times we would be at fault to offer no defence. However, objectiveness is not always easy to maintain and too often arguments avalanche into passionate exchanges rather than elevate into profitable ones; enough said.

Which comment do you most relate with

The prevalence of suffering in our world...

  • Leads me to doubt the goodness of God
  • Causes me to doubt the existence of God
  • Is something best accepted without rationalising
  • Deserves serious reflection
  • Is a part of Satan's will, not God's will
  • Is a part of God's will
See results without voting
There is a distinction between faith solutions and intellectual ones, the latter referred to as theodicies. The first is assessed critically in this book; its strengths acknowledged and its weaknesses exposed. The remainder addresses the rational
There is a distinction between faith solutions and intellectual ones, the latter referred to as theodicies. The first is assessed critically in this book; its strengths acknowledged and its weaknesses exposed. The remainder addresses the rational | Source

Theodicy

Of all the arguments against the Christian faith, perhaps none is as challenging to answer and confronting in ramification than the seeming paradox of an Almighty Holy God and the existence and prevalence of "evil".

To Quote Margaret Manning ~ the experience of suffering in light of both the goodness and power of God has caused many to doubt God, and others to walk away from faith altogether. If God does not prevent suffering, and if God does not care about the sufferer, then God does not exist in any meaningful way ~

Many there are that will use this apparent incongruity to "prove" Gods non-existence, or that he isn't the good God spoken of in the Bible. Therefore, they would contend, if there is such a creator Being, he is to be blamed for evil rather than applauded as holy .

To quote Dr Barry White ~ In recent decades, this problem has escalated as a challenge not only to God's justice but to God's very existence. How is suffering to be understood? Does God cause it, or allow it, for good reason? How do the answers to these questions influence our belief or disbelief in God? How does belief or disbelief influence our ability to cope with the seemingly endless litany of suffering which wreaks havoc on our world, from the torments of mental anguish to the raw ordeal of physical pain and the fragility and precariousness of life? How is belief in God reconciled with this dark side... ~

I've seen at least one Hubber use this very argument, "If God created Lucifer in full knowledge of the evil that was to transpire, had the power to prevent it by refusing to create Lucifer, then it was God's will that, A) Lucifer live, and B) evil happen." Their implied conclusion: An omnipotent all good God wouldn't have needed or wanted to do this, therefore such a God does not exist.

How can one respond to this?

To begin with we should appreciate that this is not a new argument.

To quote from one Christian Apologetics website ~ How could a holy and loving God who is in control of all things allow evil to exist? The answer has been debated for as long as the church has existed. We still do not have a definitive answer and the Bible does not seek to justify God's actions ~

So it has been around for a long time, such that there is even a unique term given to defences made against it:

THEODICIES

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines theodicy as "any explanation of why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits evil."

It was a word invented in the seventeenth century by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, an intellectual thinker of the Enlightenment period.

Theodicies can be distinguished from defenses, and argue that it is reasonable to believe that God has reasons for allowing evil even if we do not know what those reasons are.

However, debate on this subject can become complex; though antagonists will rarely admit to any such complexity. To them it is cut and dry, chiefly because they have premised that such an argument reduces/eliminates the possibility of there being a biblical God. However, for most Christian theologians, the question doesn't eliminate God from the picture at all, it merely challenges their perception of him; though admittedly for some believers, it has shattered it.

The intent of this hub, then, is not an outright answer, but an examination of how such questions may be answered -- if humanly possible.

It should be noted that Satan attributes God's hand as being required in anything befalling Job, whether good or ill. (ref. Job 1:11)

The Job Complex

This gem of a story right in the middle of the scriptures reveals that questions of God's goodness and justice in regards to seemingly arbitrary and severe suffering were prevalent in the minds of the ancients.

Much like the modern man, the ancients may also have used the argument of suffering to displace God. But whether they did or did not, like us, it remained a cause of confusion and misunderstanding in their lives.

Again, to quote Dr Barry White ~The Book of Job has extraordinary relevance not only for those who believe in God (yet for whom suffering is often a serious challenge to that belief), but also for those who reject belief in God (and do so largely because of the apparent inability to intellectually reconcile suffering with a loving, powerful, and just God). Job, as such, has much to offer anyone who seeks insight into the question of God and suffering ~

When reading Job, some notable points should be considered from the very first chapter:

  • Satan enters into God's presence (Job 1:6f). This has always struck me as interesting, that a being often portrayed as the personification of evil (Lucifer), is allowed into God's holy presence with the angels [sons of God]. There is perhaps facets of God and Satan's relationship that we are not privy to.
  • God asks Satan the question, "From where do you come from?" Which to some raises the question of why God asked; did he not know already? Or was it that he knew exactly where Satan had been and was therefore pre-empting Satan's purpose in being there? Satan responds, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it." Which rings of the warning regarding Satan in 1 Peter 5:8 ... seeking someone to devour.
  • God raises the matter of Job; blameless, upright, God-fearing Job. He asks, "Have you set your heart on my servant Job...?" (Job 1:8)
  • Satan had indeed set his heart on Job, and fully sought to devour him; it may even have been his purpose in coming before God.
  • After attributing Job's righteousness to nothing more than sensible self-interest, Satan sets upon God a challenge, "Stretch out YOUR hand and touch all that he has...". It should be noted that Satan attributes God's hand as being required in anything befalling Job, whether good or ill. (Job 1:11)
  • God acquiesces to the challenge and permits Satan to do his worst with Job, albeit his life be spared. (Job 1:12). And so, it seems, we have Satan becoming the instrument of God at Satan's request, with poor Job in the middle.

This very first chapter both answers and raises pertinent questions regarding the topic we are addressing:

  • God not only allows Satan to exist, but freedom to act according to his own purposes; both in heaven and on earth. Why does God allow Satan to exist in such a powerfully free capacity?
  • God was behind Job's "blessed" condition; Satan did not lie on this account. If nothing changed in regards to Job's "blamelessness", what reasons does God have in choosing to lift his hand of blessing away? What was it about Satan or his challenge, or Job, that leads God to this decision?
  • God accepts Satan's challenge as worth acting upon, and gives his "permission" to Satan's planned torments of Job. Accepting that God does not condone evil, how should we interpret God's indisputable agreement to Job's suffering? Does this tell us anything about the nature of suffering in regards to its moral objectivity?
  • Satan's power is limited to some degree by God's will. What purpose might God have in limiting Satan's power and plans?

We will attempt to address some of these points and answer some of these questions as we go.

Obstacles to understanding Evil

Personally, I think one of the hurdles in addressing this question is in establishing a consensus on what 'evil' means.

Approaching this subject with a differing hermeneutic normally creates insurmountable obstacles to reaching agreement; and really, we waste our time trying in such situations.

Unless we can establish what evil is, we cannot really hope to agree on Gods association with it in relation to his other qualities.

For example:

  • A Christian perspective is that evil is any will that stands in opposition to Gods
  • Another perspective might be that evil is anything that results in suffering
  • Another, that evil is anything perverting the natural order of things
  • Another might portray evil as the absence of good
  • Or, there is no such thing as evil; no absolutes

To illustrate the point, let's look at a biblical example in which ones perception of evil has everything to do with determining their conclusions:

In the Old Testament we have the situation where Israel is commanded to take possession of the land of Canaan; an inheritance promised to Abraham almost 500 years beforehand (Gen 12:7) and repeatedly described as a gift from God (e.g. Leviticus 14:33-24). Therefore it was God's will they have it. However, on their arrival at Canaan's border they find that the land is filled with the peoples of other nations. To accept the gift they must therefore take possession of it (there's a faith lesson in there somewhere). What was to follow was a series of battles aimed at annexing the land. We have, then, three things in play throughout the events leading up to and including the battles:

  1. God's will - his promise stands
  2. Those pursuing that will - believing the promise in the face of obstacles
  3. Obstacles presented in opposition to Gods will - challenges to possessing the promise

How an individual makes sense of the suffering that was to result from these three elements has everything to do with their perspective on what is evil.

  • A believer in the divine will of God sees the evil as being at point three. For example: It would have been evil if, in the face of obstacles, Israel lost faith in Gods promise and failed to take possession of the land.
  • Atheists will see point one as "delusion"; and by association point two. To them there is no God, therefore pursuit of his will is misguided and, if it results in suffering, is evil.
  • Those suffering as a result of Israel's faith may see the evil as point two. Anyone that threatens their comfort is committing evil; to attempt to take from us what we claimed first is evil.

From the Christian perspective neither God nor Israel saw any evil in their decisions or actions. The "evil" of the suffering these decisions and actions caused was regrettable, but ultimately achieved a purpose of God that transcended them.

From the unbelievers perspective there is no justification for the suffering of these events, for there is no God, no divine will, no transcending purpose.

We'll continue this discussion in Part 2...

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Comments 26 comments

A M Werner profile image

A M Werner 5 years ago from West Allis

parrster, you threw a lot on the table to digest. I feel full, and this is only the first course of the meal? When it comes to evil, I think mankind often has a very humanist point of view which makes anything that injures the flesh, be it violence or sickness, is evil. The unbelievers who say we created Him with our imaginations. And yet and still they have imagined Him to be something that doesn't fit their imagination, so they deny Him existing. He has to serve them or He does not exist. He has to answer when they call or He does not exist. He has to make them happy or He does not exist. Basically they are disobedient children who want their parent to obey them, coddle them and supply their every wish. When the parent won't, they kill their parent and do whatever they want. Peace


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@ AMWerner ~ Thx for being first to comment. Yes, it is a lot to absorb. In fact the greatest challenge will be to present everything concisely and systematically without losing everyone in the details. I agree, modern mans (at least western modern man) has personified suffering into evil. Rather it should be seen as a consequence of our fallen nature; a world God has determined suitable for such men to live in; for purposes we will hopefully see in following parts. God bless.


Saintatlarge profile image

Saintatlarge 5 years ago from Canada

If there is to be no evil, then there is nothing to bring us to a place of faith and resistance, and therefore we exist on our own terms without need of God. This being the very place the adversary to truth holds sway over the minds of man. If there is no suffering, then there never was a fallen nature to be reconciled and the consequence of sin has no place on this earth; once again leaving nothing to fight against. If there exists no adversary, who was once a being of complete free will as ourselves, who's own suffering is that he is forever in eternity exempt from being in or returning to a high position of excellence, therefore he will devour all and and any who will give over their will to his devises wreaking upon them every conceivable weapon of mass destruction. (that being the destruction of their spiritual element and not just body and soul) Without all of these things which are positioned within the will of God, we would already be living in a heavenly state... without anything to challenge our life, faith, free will or to take into our heart what God has purposed for mankind, being that we are to take on a new image through Christ. Also there would remain no reason for Christ to have come, suffer, and die once for all mankind. Our lives are designated to continue as Israel and secure the promise or promised land that the battle ground and taking of the land is now on a plain of the spirit and for us to overcome the very evils that exist within each of us and with that struggle comes sufferings, challenges of the heart, mind, soul and strength of each of us. Most resist God simply because there is a condition to life; one of faith, trust, and the greatest is to love; firstly him and then our neighbor. They resist because this means that they have to acknowledge his existence and their responsibility. It is so much easier to become the selfish landowner and care for no one and nothing else. Jesus spoke to the man at the pool about healing, heals him and says, "Go and sin no more." That was his condition, others not so. Environment, world events, unhealthy lifestyle, eating wrong, diseases during the middle ages because of improper waste control, pollution, the burning of carbon fuels, chemicals, pesticides have all added to the human condition brought on by bad management... but easily blamed on God. Most of this unhealthy living is a byproduct of the sin of greed. There is not one human being who is not guilty of the greed of wanting the perfect life, free from every care, worry, suffering, or global catastrophe. Unfortunately, simply because we come to Christ has not separated us from a similar mindset, and actually has caused many to even become more demanding of God for a better life... thus the sin of selfishness, to which there is a consequence. if only we could say with Job, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!"

Well written hub, with much to offer and think about, Blessings L.


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

Nice write parrster.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@Saintatlarge ~ Thanks for the great comment, I can tell you've given this subject considerable thought. Appreciated.

@Micky Dee ~ Thanks Mick, always a pleasure to have you drop by.


heart4theword profile image

heart4theword 5 years ago from hub

I do believe God did not want to force His love on us. How awesome it was for Him, to give us free will! For those who accept God, through the sacrifice of His son Jesus:) What rejoicing must be happening in the Heavens, when one chooses God? Great Hub!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

Thank you for this needful article. It is excellent. I agree with you. Well done!


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@heart4theword ~ Yes, man tends to view things from the temporal, whereas God sees from the eternal side of the equation. To look beyond this life and its hardships to heaven and its Joys is key, I think, to living this life in victoriously regardless of circumstance. Thanks for commenting.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@James ~ Appreciate you stopping by and for your encouragement. I only hope I can finish what I started; its a big bite I've taken.


Faithful Daughter profile image

Faithful Daughter 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

Perhaps the way man perceives suffering, death, and all manners of afflictions is not the way God perceives them. Remember what Isaiah 56:8-9 says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God is eternal and does not see things as man does. In eternity, God sees the beginning, the middle, and the end in life – all at once. There is no past, present, or future in eternity; it simply is. Therefore, He knows what will happen in the end, that is, in what we perceive to be the end. God is always in control and everything works for His purpose.

The example you used in the story of Job in the OT reminds me of one of the parables Jesus taught in Luke 16:19-31. There was always a message there for the Jews. Sometimes it was one of faith and hope, and a promise of eternal life and sometimes of death. In the end, those who hang on to their faith through adversity, persecution, and suffering will receive eternal life as a reward.

I enjoyed reading this. Very well written.


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 5 years ago

Parrster,

Reading this reminds me of the Azure Ancient which is a marvelous fantasy that has its roots in spirituality. I'm also reminded of the fact that many people say the Chronicles of Narnia are actually a fantastical account of God and religion, where Aslan is Jesus. Have you heard of that?

I have had similar thoughts regarding the book of Job. It reminds me of the fantasy I wanted to write when I was in high school and went to youth group every Wednesday. How very interesting!


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@Faithful Daughter ~ Great comment, thank you. In my opinion man's problem when attempting to understanding God's intentions is that we regard too highly our lowly discernment, and too lowly His lofty one. Such, I think, is one of the many repeated messages of the bible; the prodigal son for example. The consequential mess and disaster of the young man’s decisions were, in hindsight, well within the father’s far reaching influence. From seeming destruction and ruin arose the bud of divine purpose and flowering hope.

@ACSutliff ~ It's so good to hear from you again AC! Thank you for viewing my story in such a wonderful light. Regarding the Chronicles of Narnia, the spiritual/biblical parallels are undeniably everywhere, covering everything from creation, the fall, sin, faith, redemption, the final times and heaven; great stories with an even greater message.

What a great idea, writing a parallel story of Job. I might even consider that myself; has all the elements to a great story. God bless.


stessily 5 years ago

parrster: I never cease to be amazed by your ability to present complex themes clearly and fully. Then add to that mix your eloquent writing. I learn so much from what you write and how you present it, every time! Voted up + useful + awesome + beautiful.

Kind regards, Stessily

P.S. Is Part 2 available? I'm not finding it.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@Stessily ~ I really appreciated your comment, thank you. Unfortunately I have recently changed careers and am frequently travelling. As such I have found little time to do much more than read others hubs. I have made some progress with part 2 but feel it's not quite ready to publish; soon though, I hope. Thanks for your encouraging comments.


UlrikeGrace profile image

UlrikeGrace 5 years ago from Canada

Parrster, thank you for a very well written and thought-inducing hub. I muswt say that I,personally, have never attempted to answer this question as I, honestly, have been afraid to go there. If more critical thinking, smarter perople have gone there before me and have since fallen away...who am I? I am scared of the question. Yet staying away from the reality of the question is in itself a statement, of which I am not proud. God can and does stand up to the questioning (hence the dialogue in the book of Job between, Job, his friends(?) and God. You have raised many questions...and there is an order to the seeking out the answers. I look forward to the second part of this and pray for you as you seek the strength and widom of the Holy Spirit in the journey. Bless you RP and thank you for taking this on for those of us who wouldn't even know where to start. Bless you, Ulrike Grace


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@UlrikeGrace ~ Your honesty is to be commended Grace, and your prayers will be much appreciated. God bless.


vinsanity 5 years ago

This is a well done hub. I am not sure if I agree with you or not but I do like that you took the time put out all the info.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@vinsanity ~ appreciate the comment. Yes, I haven't really answered anything yet; really do have to get around to finishing part 2.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Hi :)

After reading my hubs, on the evil that I perceive in the Bible, a member recommended that I read this hub.

It is an interesting item, and I intend to re-read it, so that I night fully comprehend your stance on the subject. :)


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@trish_M ~ You've been busy reading my hubs I see; and most welcome you are. Of course, this is only part 1. Part 2 is in the works and will hopefully be posted soon.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands

Thanks, Parrster, I'll keep looking for it.

I have linked your hubs to some of my own :)


Highvoltagewriter profile image

Highvoltagewriter 5 years ago from Savannah GA.

Wow, this is great stuff and it triggers a lot in me, for I use to have a real problem with Job for it irritated me that

God would "take a bet" with Satan! However, I have recently come to the conclusion that one of the reasons why God allows suffering is to demonstrate to the rest of the universe the consonances of evil so all of his creation would understand what is at stake when we sin!


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@highvoltagewriter ~ Welcome to my hubpages. I agree with your comment. Although sovereign over his creation there is a definite freedom allotted to man, and of those truths God desires man to live by, most pragmatic of all is that their choices will reap consequence; therefore, choose wisely, choose God.

God bless


feenix profile image

feenix 5 years ago

Hello, parrster,

Thank you very much for writing and publishing this awesome and inspiring hub.

To get right to the point, the more dumb and ignorant I become, the stronger my faith becomes.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

Hey feenix ~ thanks for reading and commenting. I know what you mean. As we become aware of how little we know in comparison to God, how feeble our efforts are in comparison to his power, we are humbled and our faith heightens.

God bless


Phoebe Pike 5 years ago

Very interesting hub and well-written.

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